As the US government continues to restrict the movement of tech professionals with H1B visas, foreign IT services providers are feeling frustrated, with a few of them questioning how to sustain the previously durable model of servicing US clients.
Over the past three years, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is not only rejecting visa applications but also demanding numerous explanations from applicants.
“I know many IT companies who received hundreds of H1B visas. But, in the past few years, it has been nearly impossible to use these visas for serving American clients,” says MP Kumar, an IT industry veteran who founded several technology firms in India.
HR managers in other IT companies blame USCIS’ increased scrutiny for the crisis.
“Many H1B visa holders have returned home. They are tired of answering questions at immigration offices,” said an HR manager at an IT company in India’s silicon city of Bangalore who asked to remain anonymous.
Explain, Explain and Explain
Since 2018, USCIS has been bombarding visa applicants with numerous questions over the nature of their job, technological expertise, salary and location of work.
In addition, it is using the option of issuing an RFE (Request for Evidence), requiring US employers to submit additional paperwork. In 2019, more than 35% of visa applications were rejected even after the employers responded to an RFE.
Immigration lawyers representing the visa applicants are also growing frustrated. Dakshini Sen, an immigration lawyer in Houston, told AP last year: “We have to write and write and write and explain and explain and explain each and every point.”
Moreover, visa processing has now become “unpredictable” and confusing, forcing US employers to spend millions of dollars on lawyers and court proceedings.
Some Visas Last For Just a Few Days
Before President Donald Trump took office, H1B visas would be renewed every three years. In 2018, a lawsuit filed by an IT services provider claimed that some visas were valid for only a few days or had expired before they were even received.
This has been the fate of the visa program after it became a contentious political issue four years ago. President Trump issued a series of executive orders and presidential proclamations in the name of plugging loopholes in the visa processing system.
He first denied work permits for the spouses of H1B visa holders and raised the visa processing fee. His administration susequently tweaked the definition of “specialty occupations”. Months later, the president increased minimum wages for visa-holders and banned federal contractors from using them.
Buy American and Hire American
In response to Trump’s actions, some foreign IT companies started hiring American workers in large scale, while a few others began expanding operations in Mexico and Canada to take advantage of their timezone alignment with the neighboring US.
India’s tech giant Tata Consultancy Services is now among the largest employers in the US. Infosys, another tech multinational, not only fulfilled its promise of adding 10,000 Americans to its US payroll, but also vowed to hire another 12,000 professionals by 2022.
Finding tech talent in the US has never been easy. Both Infosys and TCS are running skill training programs in the North American country in an attempt to tackle the talent shortage.
Infosys is now talking about doubling its headcount in Mexico and Canada to maneuver around the immigration blockade in the US. However, small IT companies are watching helplessly.
In his policy statement, President-elect Joe Biden has promised to normalize H1B visa processing. His agenda for Indian Americans reads: “He (Biden) will support first reforming the temporary visa system for high-skill, specialty jobs to protect wages and workers, then expanding the number of visas offered and eliminating the limits on employment-based green cards by country.”
However, analysts say the exact dimensions of the visa program will remain opaque so long as it remains a hot debating topic among US politicians.
Indian IT providers, who received a large share of the visas until Trump’s presidency, say they don’t mind paying higher wages and higher visa fees. But they are extremely concerned with the “endless scrutiny”, which they say is consuming much of their time and resources, making it almost impossible to serve their US clients.